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The Politics of the Garrafón de Agua in Mexico

Published April 10, 2022 in Mexico - 0 Comments

I saw this here today on Facebook.

When I lived in Iowa, I never had to buy a "garrafon de agua."

Here in Mexico, I do.

And I could also give you some random stories about buying the "garrafon de agua" but I'm not going to because they're not that exciting.

I already have a story related to them that you can find here.

Anyway, I realized this could be an issue for some new gringos to Mexico or broader Latin America so I'm going to keep this article short and give some quick points you should know (even though that means it'll be less likely to be found on Google).

First, know that you aren't renting out the garrafon as the question above asks.

You are buying it.

No, they aren't going to hunt you down and demand you give it back after buying it.

And, to be honest, I never tried returning it.

Could you get your money back if you returned it empty?

I doubt it because I never heard of anyone doing that but who knows. Try your luck and surprise me.

Second, here in Mexico, you can usually expect the garrafon itself to cost around 40 to 50 pesos as of this writing in 2022.

Third, know that plenty of places -- more informal corners stores run by normal people -- won't sell you a garrafon.

For them, at least where I live in Pedregal de Santo Domingo, will insist that you bring your own empty garrafon to replace with one that they have which is full of water.

Though some corner stores will sell you one. It honestly just depends.

For those who wish to buy their own garrafon, I've found both OXXO and 7-11 can help you out also. 

Fourth, as I wrote here, you got "the agua man" in some neighborhoods.

If you wish to replace your garrafon, this is the best person to replace it with. Better than your local corner shop.

While a few out of a hundred might try to fuck with you on the price when realizing you are a foreigner, most won't in my experience. 

Still, for the vast majority who won't rip you off, the price buying from them is half or less than half compared to the price at the local corner shop (meaning a dollar to replace it with them versus two dollars or more at the corner shop).

Fifth, at least in Mexico City, know that most neighborhoods that I have lived in don't have any "agua men" riding around offering water.

I have definitely seen a correlation between how poor a neighborhood is and how many of them you see (but that probably isn't always the case).

If they are not in your neighborhood though or not as visible, you could use the number of the water company of the garrafon you got and they get them to stop by to replace it.

I have no experience with that nor do I know the price they sell at. If I had to guess, it's probably more expensive than the more informal "agua men" out there but I wouldn't know from experience. Just a guess.

Sixth, do know that a lot of places (corner stores, OXXO, those water companies) will NOT accept your garrafon if it doesn't have some marking on it.

The marking has a date on it and something else scribbled on it.

They might not also take it if it has paint on it or anything like that.

Therefore, if you ever give your garrafon that can be accepted by a corner store to one of those "agua men" from the street, you'll find that they will give you a new garrafon usually that cannot be replaced in those stores.

Though, when I lived in Tlahuac briefly, there was one agua man who actually filled my garrafon with water instead of giving me a new garrafon full of water.

But that has only happened once.

The garrafons they give you simply are not acceptable for whatever reason to the corner stores, OXXO, etc.

But this all leads me to another point.

Seventh, there are these little businesses where you can take your garrafon to get it filled with water.

When I've done that, I've found some of them will give you back your entire garrafon (including the cap) without any changes except the water they put it in.

If that is the case, you can take your more formal garrafon to that store without problem. 

In other cases -- like this one business near me in Iztapalapa -- they actually take the cap and throw it away and give you a new one.

If I was you, I'd never take the more formal garrafon to them or, if you do, at least have them not throw away the old cap and put it back on.

If they get rid of it (especially if it has the marking on top), then you can't replace it anymore at those corner shops, OXXO, etc.

That could be annoying if you want to get more water on a day where the closest business that refills the garrafon is closed and you have no more water left in the house.

In such a scenario, you could always look for another busniess that refills water (assuming there is one close).

That could also mean another 10 to 20 minutes of carrying 20 liters if you don't have a car.

Or you could have a more "informal" garrafon without the marking that the street dudes take and only let them replace that one specifically.

And have a more formal one that has the correct marking that is acceptable to corner shops, OXXO, etc.

By the way, those businesses that refill your water for you are cheaper.

The one near me now in Iztapalapa refills my informal garrafon (without the marking) for 12 pesos.

The one I went to in Pedregal de Santo Domingo charged me 16 pesos to refill it.

So little for 20 liters of water every time.

Cheap as fuck.

Anyway, that's all I got to say on this topic. As I said, I'm not stretching this topic out because any story I have is nothing more than "I bought a garrafon here, I replaced one over there, etc."

So thanks for reading.

Follow my Twitter here.

Best regards,


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